When it came to researching laser hair removal and IPL, I was struck by how difficult I found it to find a review which was not sponsored, or by a salon with a vested interest in a particular technology, and where the person had actually undergone a course of treatment rather than just one session. I’m coming to the end of my course, so I wanted to share my unbiased and real life experience of IPL here for anyone considering this treatment.
Hair removal is a time consuming thing if you’re a woman. Putting aside the issue of why we feel we need to remove our body hair in certain places, the fact is that most of us will spend a good portion of our lives shaving / waxing / using creams – whatever method we prefer, we’re likely to be doing it most weeks (at least during the summer anyway).
I’ve always been self conscious about the hair on my upper lip – I’m dark haired, with olive skin, so it would be noticeable to me and I would use hair removal cream once a week to get rid of it. Since having a baby, I’ve found the time involved in shaving my legs and general hair removal had become such a chore that I finally decided I wanted to look into longer term hair removal.
I was already visiting a beauty salon for other treatments that I was very happy with, so I was comfortable with undergoing this treatment with them. It’s important that you’re happy with the salon or clinic that you’ll be using.
My initial consultation was free of charge and was an in depth discussion about my reasons for wanting the treatment, my expectations of what could be achieved, the different methods available, and what each was likely to involve and cost.
My initial feeling was that I wanted electrolysis on my upper lip – it’s the only really permanent method of hair removal available. But once I learned that you had to grow the hair to at least half a centimetre long, that ruled it out for me. My self consciousness was the whole reason that I was going to have this treatment, there was no way I was going to walk around with half a centimetre of hair on my upper lip! My consultant also suggested that this would be far more expensive than IPL for that area. She recommended a course of IPL, taking a view at the end of it as to whether there were any particularly stubborn hairs that might benefit from electrolysis. I investigated the Soprano laser treatment as well (which I’d heard was a less painful option), as the salon also offered this, but was advised that given the fairness of my skin, the Lumina IPL machine would be a more effective and quicker option for me. I liked that the salon offered both IPL and laser, and were therefor able to give me an objective opinion on both. My consultant had undergone both the treatments herself in different places on her body, and had said that she found the Soprano treatment to require many more sessions to achieve the same result.
During my consultation I had a patch test on both my lip and my leg, so that I could test out the level of pain that the treatment would involve. I’d expected it to be more painful than it was – I’d describe it as a hot jolt, and less painful than I’ve found waxing in the past.
What is IPL?
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light and works by sending wavelengths into the skin, targeting pigment, so the light is absorbed by the pigment in the hair. This light then turns to heat and kills the growing cells that make the hair. It’s essential that the hair is at a certain growth stage in order for this to fully work, and that’s why it’s necessary to have a course of sessions to fully target all the hair in an area. It is not the same as laser hair removal, although you’ll often hear it referred to by that name.
Things to note
- IPL is suitable for dark hair and fair skin. It won’t be able to target fair hairs (and even if you’re dark haired like me, you’ll be surprised at the number of fair hairs that are hiding away)
- IPL is not suitable for used on suntanned skin. You will need to ensure that you use an SPF while you’re having your course of treatment, and any sunny holidays will need to be considered when booking in your sessions.
- IPL is not recommended if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
- It’s important that the only method of hair removal you use between sessions is shaving. Waxing, plucking or hair removal cream will all interrupt the growth cycle of the hair and mean that the IPL treatment cannot be effective.
- IPL is not a permanent method of hair removal. After your initial course, you’re likely to need top up treatments once or twice a year.
The morning of my appointment I always shave both my legs and upper lip ready for the treatment. My consultant always targets the upper lip first in my sessions, as that’s always the one that I find more sensitive. I lie on the comfy table and there are blackout goggles to put over my eyes. She’ll do a close shave on my lip, just to check that no hairs have been missed and then apply a gel. Then I’ll feel the pressure of the IPL block on my lip, she’ll count down and then there’ll be a flash as the waves are applied. The flash is the worst thing about the lip for me – the level of pain is perfectly bearable, but it’s the shock of it. But 4 shots and you’re done on the lip, so that always goes quickly.
You get to swap the full on blackout goggles for bigger goggles that you can actually see through for the legs, which is always a relief! The block used on the leg is bigger, so it can cover a larger area, but it still takes a long time to do the whole leg.
Afterwards a cooling gel with SPF is applied to the legs. You can’t use creams or lotions on the area for 24 hours, but you can apply aloe vera if they’re sore. I’ve never felt the need to though.
IPL gets a bad rap for being painful. The level of pain I find is bearable, and I have a low pain threshold – it’s certainly less painful than waxing. I find that as the session goes on you become more accustomed to it and I almost find it quite relaxing by the end (that may be because as a busy mum, these sessions are some of my only relaxing time – lying on a bed in a quiet room is lovely, even if someone is zapping my legs!) Most people seem to liken it to flicking a hot elastic band against your skin and I’d agree with that.
My consultant has always checked that I’m comfortable with the level of pain – the idea is that it level is turned up gradually through your course of sessions but this becomes more bearable as the number of hairs decreases. It can also be more painful if you have more pigment in your skin – another reason to avoid the sun during your course of treatment.
I was really impressed with the results on my legs from the very first session. After the session, all the pores on my legs tend to look very red, similar to after waxing, but it’s never sore and normally dies down by the time I get home from the appointment.
After my first session, you could see the little black dots of the hairs underneath the skin and over the course of two weeks they pushed their way through and then just fell out. A quick shave at 2 weeks in got rid of these and left me with nice smooth legs. I would say that at the 5 week mark of my next appointment, 80% of the hairs on my legs had not grown back.
My upper lip has taken longer to take effect, which I expected as the hair growth on your face is more linked to hormones. At the second session, it had definitely all come back but much finer than previously. By the third session, I was no longer shaving either of the areas in between appointments, just the morning of each appointment. Bearing in mind this was in the height of summer and also involved a holiday in between, I think that’s pretty remarkable.
After the third session we started to space out my appointments more, to 6, then 7 weeks, to see what kind of regrowth was coming through. By the fourth session, 98% of the hair on my legs was not growing back, and 70% of the hair on my upper lip was not growing back. And after session 5 I would say that the leg situation is still at 98% but with the upper lip hair having reduced by now 80%.
“Never shave your face!”
One thing I was concerned about was taking a razor to my upper lip. It’s the one thing that you’re always told never to do as the hair will grow back thicker. But from the very first session, the hair has been coming through finer and finer, and, apart from in between the first and second session, I’ve not had the need to shave in between treatments.
There are a number of bonuses to IPL for me. When I shaved, I could always see the little dot of the hair root sitting in the pore – I never had that totally smooth leg look. But because there are no little hair roots sitting there anymore, my legs look so much smoother. IPL is also recognised as a treatment for damaged skin – acne scarring, rosacea, thread veins – and as someone who had lots of scars on the legs from razor cuts and mosquito bites, I do think that this has improved those.
How much does it cost?
Most salons and clinics will offer a number of deals if you book a course, or if you buy two areas together – I got my upper lip for free when I booked for my lower legs. As a guideline, the average cost for lower legs comes in at around £180 a session, and around £60 a session for the upper lip.
IPL seems to have gone a little out of fashion as newer technologies like the Soprano Ice laser hair treatment have come in. But I’ve found it to be a really effective method of long term hair removal for me. I have just one session of my course of 6 remaining and it seems like that will be enough for my legs. I feel I’m likely to need some further sessions for my upper lip, but I’d been told to expect between 8-10 sessions for that area and I’m happy with the progress.
I’ll continue to update this post once both treatments are complete, but I hope this has given you a good idea of my experience of IPL.